Using local water for Peabody mine contentious
By CYNDY COLE
Sun Staff Reporter
Norman Benally was 5 years old when he was taken from his home at
Black Mesa and sent to a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school.
He returned to a different landscape nine years later.
“The area I grew up in had all been strip-mined and everything had
changed in that way,” he said.
Benally’s family lives on the cusp of Black Mesa Mine, where they’ve
opposed mining for three generations and lost.
The Hopi and Navajo tribal governments, meanwhile, are negotiating
lucrative new coal sale contracts with Peabody Coal Company and
proposing to tap the Coconino Aquifer east of Flagstaff in a bid to reopen
the mine and a coal-burning power plant, Mohave Generating Station, in
Contentious meetings in Flagstaff and elsewhere have resulted (see
related story below).
The power plant was shut down two years ago following a series of air
Reopening it could mean relocating 17 households at the mine — including
the Benallys — permanently drying up some springs at the mine, continued
use of the Navajo Aquifer, seeing some local ranchers’ wells go dry and
adding small particulates to the air that could aggravate health problems
near the mine site, according to the environmental impact statement of the
Peabody and the power plant owners have vowed to reverse those negative
impacts they can control.
But mainly, reopening the mine hinges on the construction of one long and
The proposed line would send water from the Canyon Diablo area on a
108-mile trip up to Black Mesa Mine, where it would be used to slurry
coal another 273 miles to the Laughlin power plant.
About 62 gallons of water per second have been proposed for this new
pipeline, to be drawn from the local aquifer. Giving some dry homes
water via spur lines, though mentioned in recent plans, has not been
analyzed in detail.
Also not mentioned was the impact to Flagstaff, according to a city
document to be discussed in City Council next week. The Red Gap
wellfields on which the city hopes to rely for water in future decades
lie near the wellfield for the proposed pipeline.
This area is also the water source for Navajo ranchers in the area.
“What they’re going to do is tap all seven windmills, take a monopoly
on our water and they expect us to keep living there,” said Ellen Branch,
who lives on the Navajo Nation near the proposed pipeline wellfield.
Peabody, which isn’t directly responsible for the pipeline or wellfields,
responded by saying U.S. Geological Survey studies from last year
found the aquifer plentiful and able to supply the mine, the city of
Flagstaff and more.
Environmentalists and other opponents call the plan wasteful of water
and, ultimately, helpful to a power plant that would help speed global
Peabody and other supporters point to the jobs, tribal royalties and
power supply that would be restored if Mohave and the mine reopened.
The mine’s reopening would mean 480 jobs at Black Mesa, mostly
for tribal members, Peabody said.
Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation governments stand to gain a total $53.4
million a year in coal royalties — or 10.5 percent more than they received
under the last coal contract that’s expired, according to the environmental
impact statement. And if a pipeline were built and used through the mine’s
lifespan of 2025, the tribes would own it afterward.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CROWD TRAILS OFFICIAL AROUND MEETING ROOM
A new mining and pipeline proposal for the Black Mesa coal mine turned
contentious Thursday night at a meeting at Little America attended by
The meeting was an open house where the public could read about the project,
watch a video, ask questions of Office of Surface Mining officials and, individually,
make comments to a person writing them down or recording them.
The crowd — mostly opposed to the pipeline — wanted a town hall where they
could address Navajo Nation and Office of Surface Mining officials.
They complained that they hadn’t had time to read the 758-page
environmental impact statement since it was released the week of
Thanksgiving and that most people hadn’t been informed about it.
“It applies to every single Hopi and Navajo. This is our land, our resources.
And that makes this very unusual,” said farmer, founder of Black Mesa
Trust and former Hopi Chairman Vernon Masayesva. “…If you go to
Hopi, 99.9 percent of the people have not even read the document that’s
going to impact them.”
Some wanted their tribal leaders in attendance to be able to hear them,
instead of giving comments to a machine or person in a corner.
Office of Surface Mining officials declined to answer questions publicly.
So a crowd of about 60 pipeline opponents followed one official in
particular around the room, asking questions and shouting his
replies so all could hear. The questions turned into verbal attacks,
where the opponents were complaining about the proposal or
shouting disagreements toward the Office of Surface Mining man.
A second Flagstaff police officer arrived to stand by.
“If we’re not going to have a civilized discussion, we’re not going to
have a discussion,” Office of Surface Mining employee Rick Holbrook said.
The crowd began giving statements to the recorder, one by one.